Selling or staying – make the most of your home

An experts' guide to how you can improve and add value to your house. Julian Knight reports

Easter marks the start of one of the busiest periods for the property market with estate agents reporting the usual rush of new instructions. But are these would-be sellers making the most of their homes? And for those who don't want or can't afford to move, what can they do to spruce up their homes?

From big projects costing tens of thousands of pounds to small changes to your decoration, here, according to the experts, are the top 10 ways to boost the value of your home or simply make it a better place to live.

Redecorate

This is always a favourite quick fix for homeowners. But Robert Sturges from London estate agents Chesterton Humberts warns that this can be fraught with danger. "Keep it simple, with neutral, light colours. I always recommend getting a professional to do the job. Be aware that poor decoration and paints can actually remove value from your home." Lynn Pick, who runs home-makeovers.co.uk, an interior design consultancy for people selling their properties, said that with decor, less is more. "Choose four colours for your house and no more; just vary the proportion that you use these colours from room to room. The key is that colour schemes should flow and be easy on the eye."

Replace windows and doors

"Above all, make sure it's in keeping with your local area," Mr Sturges advised. "Drive around; even ask a local agent. New PVC windows costing thousands may seem like a good idea but in some more affluent areas these are being ripped out and replaced with a modern take on more traditional sash windows. You could end up reducing not increasing the value of your home," he said. An easier and less expensive option is to replace or rejuvenate the front door and exterior. "People often rule a property in or out on the exterior alone. Try to make your front door the best along your row of houses, and if you can't or don't want full exterior re decoration, some nice window boxes can create the right impression," said Ed Mead, a director at estate agency Douglas Gordon.

Update that kitchen

A new kitchen can cost from £3,000 to £30,000, but a far cheaper option is a lick of paint and new handles and doors. "Paint those wooden units, as long as you put on a proper primer underneath so can paint over it. It is the best and cheapest way of refreshing your kitchen," Ms Pick said. Mr Mead said if you have to make a choice on which room in the house needs a bit of tender loving care, the kitchen should win every time. "The kitchen is the room which sells the house. If you have a limited budget, it should be the focal point of your property rejuvenation."

Kerb appeal

Parking is difficult to find in many cities. But the answer could be staring you in the face. "It may not look as pretty but converting a front garden into a parking space and lowering the kerb is a much more practical use of the space," Mr Mead said. However, all councils have a procedure for lowering a kerb and costs can be in excess of £2,000 for the work and relevant permission. "Be warned: if you don't have the proper permissions for the work, the local council will come along and put the kerb back up to its old height, charging you for the privilege," Mr Sturges said.

Beautify the garden

"It needn't cost much: a few plants and a few days outside tidying up can make the world of difference," said Ms Pick. "Look at creating a few focal points which draw the eye such as smart furniture, a decked area or beds of flowers. Don't overdo the garden. Keep it simple. Think of it as an extra room and take pride in it." Mr Mead thinks that gardens can prove a drain. "If you are doing a makeover and spending, say, £20,000, then a few hundred or thousand on the garden is probably a good idea. But splashing half your cash on the outside space might not add value."

Insulate your home

Better insulation may not be the first thought on homeowners minds' over a sweltering Easter. But with the big six gas and electricity companies gearing up for a new round of price rises from next month, it could be an ideal moment whether you are planning to sell or stay.

"Loft insulation is a complete no-brainer," Mr Mead said. "It costs next to nothing and you will be paid back on your investment within a year or so." Older homes may benefit from cavity wall insulation and the energysavingtrust.co.uk has useful details on grants. Very expensive projects such as solar panels and ground source heating are a thornier issue. "If it's a 'forever' home then look at these options. Other than that they're unlikely to add to property value as much as they cost," Mr Mead added.

Spruce up the bathroom

After kitchens, the room most likely for renovation is the bathroom, but spending thousands may not be necessary. "A power shower can be a good investment as can installing an en-suite in the master bedroom, but this can cost a lot of money," said Jim Huswit, a director of myhammerco.uk, which puts homeowners in touch with tradespeople. "Small jobs to smarten up the bathroom can be the way to go, such as a bit of retiling."

Convert the loft

This is one of the biggest and most expensive improvements you can do, so take note of your local property market. "A good conversion can cost £30,000 to £40,000 so you want to be adding £60,000 to £70,000 to the value of your property. Otherwise it may not be worth the expense," Mr Sturges said. "Check to see that your local market can sustain this and the returns are there."

Increase storage power

"If you're getting other work done – such as knocking through rooms or converting a loft or basement – then think about storage solutions. It can be a real boon," Mr Huswit said.

For some homeowners it can mean they can stay put for longer. "By doing an extension or increasing your storage you may find that you don't need to move," Mr Sturges said.

De-clutter the home

Last but by no means least, clear the surfaces and stow stuff you don't need. "This is always the first thing I do with clients," Ms Pick said. "You would be shocked at how much space this can create and can help someone with a sale as well as families trying to make their home work for them."

Expert View

Lynn Pick, home-makeovers.co.uk

Look at your house. It probably doesn't need major surgery either to make it more sellable or more suited to your needs. Before going for radical solutions look at the small stuff first. Something as simple as painting kitchen units can have a big impact.

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